Inovio considers moving COVID-19 vaccine trial overseas as U.S. ends funding

A woman holds a medical syringe and a small bottle labelled "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine
A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

April 23 (Reuters) - Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO.O) said on Friday the U.S. government pulled the funding for a late-stage study testing its COVID-19 vaccine candidate and that it would now pursue conducting the trial largely outside the country.

Shares of the drug developer slumped 26.7%, as the decision followed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September putting the Phase 3 portion of the mid-to-late stage trial on hold for more information on the device used to inject the shot.

Inovio said on Friday depending on the results of its mid-stage trial, it would run the late-stage study for its vaccine candidate, INO-4800, with partners such as China's Advaccine and the International Vaccine Institute (IVI).

The U.S. Department of Defense will continue to fund its ongoing mid-stage study, the company said.

"This decision is not a reflection of the awardee or product, rather a fast-moving environment associated with the former Operation Warp Speed on decisions related to future products," the department informed the company.

Inovio has lagged behind rivals in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, with shots from Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and partner BioNTech SE (22UAy.DE), Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) receiving U.S. emergency use authorization.

"With multiple authorized and robustly effective COVID vaccines available, we have long viewed INO's window of opportunity to run a trial as somewhat narrow," Piper Sandler analyst Christopher Raymond said.

The company will now fund the trial either on its own and/or with help from another partner, Raymond said in a client note.

Inovio did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Earlier this month, Inovio received $6.9 million in funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to work with the International Vaccine Institute on an early-to-mid-stage trial for INO-4800 in South Korea.

The company said it would continue to test its other vaccine candidate, INO-4802, targeting variants of the coronavirus.

Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel

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